‘Home care should be a public service’

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Mary Bell was a carer in Havering for 10 years, working for different private care companies. Now retired, she stood up for the rights of carers throughout her career and has campaigned at the local and national level for home care to be run for people and not profit. She talked to Richard Whittell about what carers and the public can do to ensure decent care for all.

You have been a home care worker for ten years. What has it been like?

I have enjoyed every minute of it to be honest with you, going out to the clients. The problem is, unfortunately, the private sector, which exploits both the carers and the patients. In my opinion it should be put back into the public sector because you can't serve two.

Wages are very, very low at the moment. We don't get petrol money and we do not get paid for time between visits. You don't get parking permits. Let's face it, we all go out to work to earn money to support our families. These girls that come into this business don't realise what it's like until they're in it up to their necks. We're doing back to back visits, we cannot get to our clients on time so there's bad feeling between them and the carers. But at the end of the day it is not their fault. It is the companies.

Home care should be a public service. Carers are being robbed for the job that they do. Don't forget that we are nursing care staff. We are not just carers any more. We are now going to have to look after palliative care people.

They are just some of the problems. How can it be changed?

Really and truly people should be speaking up like I'm doing. But it's very hard because the clients are elderly people and they are very vulnerable. And the care staff that look after them are very vulnerable. You might not think so but they are. These are people that are on a low wage, trying to support their families and they need the work. They're frightened to come up and frightened to say anything.

We know what the bullying is like by the companies. They will take your work away at the slightest little thing. You just might have a problem one day but if you look like you are giving work back, they'll take it off you for a week. How disgusting is that?

We had a particular incident at work when we said to the manager: “if you don't try and do something about the standards of our work then what would you say if we went on strike?”

Well that nearly blew the top off. They phoned us up individually and said if we ever did anything like that you would never work in the care system again. It was said just in passing. They won't let you do anything collectively.

In general people aren't members of the union?

No, in general none of them are.

Are there any unions that are trying to recruit?

Not really. You don't see anybody. You don't see a union rep come round to the company or anything like that.

You’ve had some discussions with ministers. What came out of that?

Yes, Norman Lamb, Andrew Rossendale. But then again, you see, they don't do anything. They say that they’re going to. We had one meeting, that's it.

What we need to do is get a petition online to the government with 350,000 signatures to debate it in parliament. That's what it needs. It needs to be debated in parliament. It needs carers to go up into parliament and debate it with them. Because we're the ones who know what it's like out there. They don't because the doors are shut. They don't know what's going on behind closed doors. Nobody does, unfortunately, because it's not monitored.

But then at the same time you went to parliament, you did debate it with them.

Well no, this was with Norman Lamb, at a round table meeting.

But he was the Care Minister, the top dog.

Yes but at the end of the day he had all his top people that appeared on the television, his social workers, his care home workers and he told us that he was going round to these care homes. Now, they knew he was going round. It was all set up! How wonderful these care homes are – well yeah they would be wouldn't they, if you knew that he was going there.

Ok you get a massive petition, go to parliament, debate it in parliament. Wouldn't the result just be the same?

Well no it shouldn't be, it shouldn't be. And if it is, then we do a rally. Do anything to make them take notice. Because the money is there. They can pay for it. If they can pay £52bn for a railway system they can pay a few billion more for proper care in the community.

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